Thursday, May 24, 2007

The anthropological significance of breaking bread together

The human biological need to eat is not a result of the Fall in Eden. God created Adam and Eve in a “garden” with fruit-bearing trees and no doubt vegetable-bearing plants. Eating is no different from the other pre-Fall aspects of Creation---marriage, procreation, work, stewardship of terrestrial resources. Humans have a fundamental need, woven into their make-up, to eat. This fundamental need goes beyond the biological need to survive. There is an anthropological significance to “breaking bread”.

For the Christian, the concept of breaking bread is deeply rooted in biblical symbolism. From the manna in the wilderness, to the Last Supper, to the banquet feast in glory, “breaking bread” holds great significance.

In my previous post “Family and the Odyssey”, I commented on the decline of the “family dinner” in Western culture. When I ask my students how often they eat together as a family, I am surprised by the small number of students who have family dinners at all. Does it really matter? The answer is yes. Unfortunately, our forefathers have failed in passing along the reasons for many fundamental aspects of human culture. Our forefathers took it for granted that people would always value “breaking bread” together. Fifty years ago, the dinner table was the hub of the family home. Unfortunately, soccer games, overtime at the office and instant meals have contributed to the devalued role of dinner.

At my school, which has a long history rooted in the traditions of English independent schools, we have a common lunch period. All students and faculty “break bread” together. The students are divided into Tutorial groups (10-12 students) and they sit together with their teacher. We stand, waiting for the Head table to say grace and then we eat the food in “family-style” serving bowls. Food is “passed” between students; emptied bowls are refilled for the next student. I have heard faculty complain about eating with the students. At times, I complain myself. After teaching my students all morning, it can be overwhelming sitting with them at lunch as well. However, I am reminded of the significance of breaking bread together as a school.

Most schools are cafeteria style or buffet style. If you have ever been to a buffet, then you know how anti-social it is. Everyone is getting up and down walking to the buffet, vying for the last egg roll or chicken strip. You eat what you want, when you want and how much you want. There is no need to be civil other than waiting for your turn at the trough. The meal becomes an individual’s pursuit of personal satisfaction. At my school, we have a strong sense of community and I think this is partly a result of the fact we eat a common meal together.

Eating reminds us of our connection to other humans in our community. We have this in common with each other---we need to eat. Eating food together is also a reminder of our civilization: there are manners and signs of respect that are reinforced on a daily basis. Things like passing the plate to someone. Saying “please” and “thank-you”. Eating in moderation to save food for the next person. Refilling an empty serving bowl.

Humans are forgetful and as a result of the Fall, sinful and selfish. Eating together is a daily reminder of our pre-Fall existence. Harmony, civility and camaraderie define shared meals. These values are reinforced when we “break bread” together, as a school and as a family.


Jeremy W. Johnston said...

I read on my wife's blog that a friend tried to read my blog and found it too complicated... I suppose "The anthropological significance of breaking bread together" sounds pretty heady. What I mean by this title is, "it's good to eat food together." 'Nuff said.

Laur said...

I value family suppers together since lunches and breakfasts are usually obselete. This is a great privelege for you as a teacher to be a key figure to this group of kids who probably don't get a family meal. You spend 80 percent of your time with them, that is substantial! Your comment on the 'trough' was very fitting I thought. Laur.

Holly K. Rauser said...

"Harmony, civility and camaraderie define shared meals." What a wonderful line, what a wonderful concept. Unfortunately if you go to a restaurant these days you will see discord, ciaos, and cursing at shared meals. The only time people ever eat together around a table is at a restaurant. Kudos to your swanky school, keep up the good work with the rugrats.

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

Thanks, Holly, for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

Just came across you when Googling "breaking bread - symbolism" - lovely post, thanks.